History's HEROES? 1865 - 1915

Edith Cavell

What she did


Her legacy

Amongst Edith Cavell's legacies must be counted the possible descendants of the 200 Allied soldiers she helped to save - the people alive now who might not have been alive had she not made the decision she did. 

But Edith's life's work and achievements are overshadowed by the legacy of her death. The propaganda the British were able to make out of her execution, apart from encouraging more men to join up, may also have been one of the factors that turned American public opinion to support the United States entering the war, and ensuring victory for the Allies.

The seeming unjustness and brutality of her execution, especially since she had also helped to save the lives of German soldiers in her hospital, stirred public opinion around the world. Her words of understanding and forgiveness for her executioners captured people's imagination and made her captors look brutal and barbaric. 

Over the years, many memorials have been raised to her memory, including one near Trafalgar Square which depicts her in her nurse's uniform and has her famous words of forgiveness engraved.

Around the world there are wards and hospitals that have been named after her, as well as many streets and schools. 

A number of parks bear her name and there is a Mount Edith Cavell in the Canadian Rockies, which was named in 1916.

Numerous books were written about Edith, many of those soon after the war were romanticised to the point of being more like works of fiction. But there have been some well researched biographies since World War 1.

There were also some films about her: one silent one in 1928 starred Sybil Thorndike (a very famous actress, later to become a dame). In 1939, Edith was played by Anna Neagle. 

Centenary commemorations, in recognition of her life and achievements, have taken place in Brussels, Norwich, Norfolk schools and churches in 2015. 

In Brussels, a new bust of the British nurse was unveiled in Montjoie park in the Brussels suburb of Uccle - exactly 100 years after her death and close to a hospital that bears her name.
Norwich Cathedral held a number of commemorative services, some broadcast by the BBC.
A new memorial commissioned by the Cathedral is to be created by award-winning sculptor, Wayne Hart. There have also been exhibitions, concerts and a pilgrimage.


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